Mozilla working on Web 3.0: web apps that run offline too

If you’re a tech enthusiast you’ll have tried any number of web apps by now… Gmail Google Spreadsheets Zimbra… heck Michael Arrington of TechCrunch has made a business of trying them out. But visions of web 2.0 nirvana come tumbling down when you find yourself without a net connection. Suddenly you’re back to old faithful Microsoft Office.

Mozilla Foundation CEO Mitchell Baker says running web apps offline is a top priority for Firefox and shipping versions already have some of the capability built in!

Web apps without a net connection: would you still need Microsoft Office then? (pic – zimbra.com)

Dan Warne (APC): Your CeBIT keynote on May 1st talked about running web apps offline without an internet connection. That’s incredibly interesting because everyone’s waiting for the ‘holy grail’ Microsoft Office killer to come along yet anyone who’s ever used one of the upcoming online office suites is aware of the problem that you can’t use them when you’re on a plane or otherwise disconnected from the net for example.

Mitchell Baker: Right. The big picture is we are investing enormous amounts in the web itself as a platform which is what capabilities does the web have and are they robust enough to be viable alternatives to proprietary technology like Silverlight for example?

And are they also robust enough to make the web attractive in comparison to desktop software because that’s the platform that we care about.

And so offline apps are the ability to work offline for some period of time with the web – it’s one of those things that would move the web platform forward. We have actually done a fair amount of work already so what’s happened so far is that most or all of the basic code – the databases and storage work necessary to support offline web apps — is in the shipping versions of Firefox now.

Those capabilities have been in there since Firefox 2 but people haven’t known and picked up on it. We thought “okay we should do a little demonstration so people can see what it is and we are now growing enough that we have enough resources to be able to do some of this.” The guys in New Zealand working on this are phenomenal.

So we thought Mal would be a good one to demo it and so he worked with Zimbra which of course he used to work with as an open source developer. So he has done a pretty nice demo of what can be done.

Then there has been some work in the Mozilla Development Centre to explain what that is and provide some assistance. So you could find info on Mozilla offline apps in the Mozilla Development Center – we are very proud of that. We actually have a pretty professional set of documentation now. There is sample code there I am not sure if that is there yet.

So the plan is that all the functionality required for shipping Firefox Two and we are hoping that we’ll have some other not just applications that people can sit and touch and feel and so on so that will be exciting.

Dan Warne (APC): Very exciting stuff. And so the last question… how long until Firefox Three?

Mitchell Baker: [Laughs]

What we are aiming for is the end of this year but we won’t know until we do the betas. That’s where we get the degree of testing that we can actually make an accurate estimate.

It takes somewhere between 50 and 100000 people – so maybe 70000 people — using something to really have an idea of where you are. That is what we find that open source testing is a phenomenal benefit and when we get to the betas and we get those kinds of numbers because the web and the use cases are so broad that testing against the web – even as you automate you can’t automate everything.

So when you get that number of people you get a lot of information that tells you a lot more than whatever you thought before. So that’s when we start assessing how many betas [inaudible].

Dan Warne (APC): I will be one of them. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts so generously.

Read more of the interview with Mitchell Baker: